Three students from R.D. Parker Collegiate travelled to Ottawa in November to take part in the Mental Health Commission of Canada’s HeadSTRONG program, an initiative to help destigmatize discussion of mental health among students and youth.
From Nov. 16 until Nov. 21, students from all across Canada came together in Ottawa to listen to different speakers, and discuss how the stigma can be broken.
Regan McLellan, a Grade 12 student, was one of the three that went from Thompson. McLellan says the HOPE North Suicide Prevention Committee nominated its sub-committee, the S.O.S program at RDPC, to take part in the youth summit. The committee then asked the school to select three students from the S.O.S program.
Glenn Shatford, who’s in Grade 11 says S.O.S is all about students helping students. “S.O.S is a group here at the school. It stands for Students Offering Support. We’re a group here that doesn’t discriminate. We can offer support to anyone that needs it in any area.” McLellan says the group is open to all grades, and meetings see about 15 members on a regular basis.
McLellan, Shatford, and Xandria Bruderer, another Grade 11 student, were chosen after writing essays about why they wanted to attend the conference.
Bruderer was excited to take part in the conference because she wants to break the stigma. “There’s a big stigma around mental health. I guess some people can feel ashamed or bad about them if they have an illness because so many people talk down about them. We have to tell people it’s OK.”
Shatford feels the same way. “We learned a lot about stigma around mental health and a lot of facts some people might find hard to believe, that mental illness is that common. We learned information and ways to have our own conference and eventually break the stigma.”
The Thompson S.O.S. program plans to hold a conference in the future. “The goal is for us to have our own HOPE summit where we can get people to come up and share their stories, give facts, and offer their support. It would help people, and break the stigma that mental health is associated only with, let’s say, crazy people, because it’s not,” said Shatford.
Bruderer hopes to include public speakers in the Thompson conference because that was her favourite part of the Ottawa summit. “I really loved getting to listen to people talk about how they live with their mental illness, and how it affects them throughout their life. The youngest speaker we listened to was about 20, and she spoke about how she had depression and anxiety. She was my favourite speaker.”
McLellan says she learned a lot during the conference. “The biggest thing I learned was that half-a-million Canadians each week miss work because they’re too ill to go. Mentally ill.”
Shatford said he learned that mental illness is a lot more common than people think. “There’s one in five Canadians suffer from a mental illness, and up to 70 per cent of them do not come out and talk about it because of the stigma behind them.”
All three students agreed the stigma around mental health needs to be broken and with the help of the conference, they believe it’s possible.
Bruderer says it’s about education. “We need to work on it because Thompson can be a pretty mean town to live in. People just don’t know any better so if we teach them, especially the younger students here, they will understand better.”
Without the help of the teachers and Air Canada and Calm Air, the three students wouldn’t have been able to make the trip.
“Thanks to all the people that got us there, because it was a really good experience. I hope we can take what we learned there, and bring it back here to Thompson,” says Shatford.